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To The Slaughter

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"I have a favor to ask of you, Percival," President Snow says, as Percival kneels at the man's feet to pin the hem of his pants, ruler in hand. Just another quarter-inch off the hem, and they'll sit perfectly. 

"Oh?" He asks, and does not look up, takes a pin from the cushion looped around his wrist to place it through the fabric. At this angle, he's all too aware of the translucency of the fabric of his shirt."What would that be, Mister President?"

"One of the Games Stylists has fallen very ill - and right at the last minute."

"That's a shame," he comments non-committedly. Unfortunately, he thinks he already knows what the President’s going to ask. The extent to which he can try and wheedle his way out of it… is difficult to know. One sentence and he feels like the one getting pinned, like a moth on a cloth board.

"It is. It could not have happened at a worse time - every other stylist I could invite is already up to their ears finishing their pre-Games commissions this close to the Reaping."

Well, there goes his sole escape route. "It's a shame I'm not really a stylist, Mister President," he replies, ever so evenly.

"I know that you prefer to call yourself a tailor. Perhaps, Percival, this might be a time to spread your wings a little. Try something new. I know you and Caesar have long been finished with his wardrobe this year, and none of your other clients will be expecting different outfits every night made fresh in the next fortnight." No, but he has no interest in dressing some sniveling district kid. He doesn't even do socialites – he’s not interested in their flightiness, their need to chase any passing fad. Percival is in the business of building authoritative images. The President requested his service personally - almost everyone else he designs for receives an engraved invitation. People often want his work; they very rarely get it. Hell, he doesn't even advertise.

He does not sigh outwardly. The President is a loyal customer and also the President, it wouldn't do to upset him. "And which district do you intend me to lend my talents to?" Anything but Twelve, he thinks dismally, and does not prick the President's ankle with a pin.

"The designs have been locked in for months, so it shouldn't take much work."

"Forgive me if I refuse to waste my time with other people's designs." Snow does chuckle then; he is not comforted by it. "Which district, Mister President?"

"Ten. You'll take the boy, of course." District Ten with the ten gallon hats. Great. He makes sure to keep his head down so it doesn't show on his face. "I look forward to you doing something new with them, Percival. The old cowboy shtick has become rather tired, these days." 

"It's an honor," he replies, because what else is there to say?

"You'll get paid at your usual rush fee, all your materials will be covered, and then after the Games start you can go back to what you do best. I think it'll be good for you - a change of scenery. I've set up a meeting for you with Ten’s junior stylist in her studio once we're done here; I'm sure she'll be very grateful for your input."

Who even styles District Ten? Percival never cared to know before. He watches the Games just like everyone else, but he's never bet money or sponsored - no kid from the Districts is worth that much of his time. “Then I look forward to meeting my collaborator,” he replies, and pastes on a smile as he gets to his feet, looks the President in the eye. “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”

"Not at all. Thank you, Percival. Happy Hunger Games." He grins at him, all teeth. And may the odds be ever in my damn favour, Percival thinks, but only smiles back, tightlipped, and inclines his head.

Once the President's second fitting is completed, he is pretty much placed into a car outside the President's mansion and sent, presumably so he definitely reaches his destination and doesn't slip off into the Garment quarter and conveniently 'forget'. It's a wonder there's not a peacekeeper in the front seat. The Avox drives, and he sits in the back and regrets this heavily. But it's done. He should phone Seraphina and take her to dinner. For now, he opens his SketchPad and begins to write a list of things that District Ten might offer which isn't two people dressed as if they've fallen out of what the Capitol thinks happens on one of their cattle ranches.

Not that Percival has any intention of ever finding out what actually happens on a cattle ranch. The amount of dirt alone...

District Ten are chattel; they've not had a victor since Tina Goldstein barely survived a sandstorm which was probably, from what he heard from a loose-lipped client (you hear things you probably shouldn't in his line of work, but he's always been discreet), an accident on the Gamemakers' parts. Something of an embarrassment - they had a new Head Gamemaker the next year. That was - ten years ago, now, maybe. Anyway. District Ten. Cowboys, cows, sheep, chickens, farm animals of all varieties like the ones they see in books as children - it's not as bad as coal mining but there's nothing decent there for inspiration that he can think of. What is he going to do, send them tarred and feathered down the parade route? It occurs to him that someone has actually tried that one already. It went about as well as anyone would expect - two shivering, half-starved tributes trying to smile through the honor of having glittery feathers strategically stuck onto their skin. It’s not going to win anyone any support.

Fuck, he actually has to help with that now, doesn’t he.

They drive downtown to the garment quarter, past the Meadow market and the massive pair of statues which overhang its entrance: a shepherd and a milkmaid in an old Classical style, made out of alabaster and solid gold in places. He's seen them so many damn times, and laughed at the idea of them being in the Capitol, this archetype of bucolic simplicity in their midst.

Inspiration smacks him about the head.

"Stop the car," Percival tells the avox. "Now."

The avox, to his credit, listens. Percival clambers from the back seat, pulls out his SketchPad and raises it, takes photos from all manner of angles of the statues, of all the little details they'll need. Takes two minutes at it, which feels like it shouldn't be long enough but is also far too much time - he'll have to come back again, but for now the pictures are in focus and that will do. Once he's happy, he climbs back into the vehicle. "Alright. Drive on."

It's a start. Percival can't remember anyone else using it, but it's memorable. If the recreation's good enough the Capitolites will get the reference instantly, which is the point of this exercise. There is no subtlety in Games costuming; he can do something with this. It'll be hard to look bad in it, too.

He opens a new layer over the top of the best photo of the shepherd statue, and begins to sketch, jot a materials list. He's going to need a sheepskin, yards of cambric for the draping, and a truckload of sequins and beads, but he thinks it'll work. Probably. Gold or silver detailing will depend on the tribute's complexion.

Momentarily, Percival smiles to himself, until he remembers how much of a pain in the ass this’ll be.

Less than an hour into being a Games Stylist and he sort of hates himself already.

 0-0-0-0-0

"So here are the designs for the Tribute Parade," Pompadora Wilkinson, District Ten's 'junior' stylist tells him eagerly, and reveals the usual rancher outfit - in lime green, this year, apparently, which is a colour only the most foolhardy would consider a genuine option. She's getting in the way of the design projected on the wall - her wig is three times the size of her head, neon pink and stuffed full of flowers; her skin's pale blue. She's got the latest fad fashion on, all tulle and net, a skirt which looks like it was made out of marshmallow fluff. No wonder no one important will ever take her seriously. She'd maybe get into the fashion mags in that get-up, but that's about all.

There's nothing original about her. Nothing interesting, nothing you could even squint at and think it special. He's seen all of her get-up a hundred times on other people and it's just not compelling - just like her designs for the Games. Her outfit tells you nothing about her at all as a person except that she's a sheep, which he guesses is fitting for Ten, seeing as that's where they probably come from.

Percival looks across to her, and says, "you'll never move up the ranks if you keep at it with the cowboys."

She stares at him, mouth just a touch open, fingers fluttering in mid-air like an uncertain butterfly's wings. He just looks back at her calmly, waits for her to be done; she doesn't get there, so he continues regardless. Kinder, this time, he tells himself, and reminds himself not to be an asshole. She needs mentoring as much as any young designer does if she’s to come up with anything good; she's just another apprentice he's taking on. "I've got plans for something else for the boy. You can put the girl in that if you want, but if you want to get into a better district, you'd be better off changing your mind. Isn't that what you want? To move up?"

She pauses, then, and nods.

"Alright then. No one pays attention to them if they go out in that." He jabs his stylus at the screen. "They've seen that before. No one even looks twice and their faces are obscured by the hats, it's no good for the cameras. You know the statues at the entrance to the Meadow?"

She nods again.

"Good," he replies. "So will everyone else. They won't expect it, which should be enough to get their attention that late in the parade, and it'll garner you interest if the design's good enough. How long have you been in Ten?"

"Three years," she admits. Should have moved up by now, probably.

"Then let's get you into a better district. You got time now to go sketch?"

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

"So you're styling for the Games," Seraphina says, and sips her wine. She is a picture of serenity on the other side of the table, her hair wrapped in a dark turban with blonde curls strategically curled in front of her ears, her dark skin gleaming. People around the restaurant are trying not to stare at them; they make a picture, the pair of them, dark birds in the corner of a tropical aviary. Percival appreciates that she's wearing one of his creations; Seraphina’s the only woman he’s ever tailored for, and this suit – navy blue with a subtle pinstripe made of individual tiny stars - is one of his favorites he might have ever made her. It’s a challenge, tailoring for a woman, particularly a woman with her tight specifications and preferences. Seraphina, meanwhile, has a knack for finding him accessories he’ll like; he’s got her scorpion stick-pins on today. "Which district?"

"Ten."

"You couldn't do better than Ten with your portfolio?"

"Pinch hit, someone's unwell," he replies, rather than take offense. "President's personal request. One Games only." In other words: don’t shit on me, we can’t all have elbowed our way to being lead for District Two. Seraphina has always been visibly brilliant, always wanted her name in bright lights. It's not his own preference, but he respects her for it; they have always been opposite sides of the same coin in that regard. 

"You're taking the boy, I presume."

"I don't do pretty dresses."

Her smile could cut through cloth. "You make sharp suits. The kid'll need one."

"Yeah, about that," he says. "I figure this is about more than clothes. What else do I need to do?"

"First," she says, "you need to buy me another drink."

“Give you the gigglewater, huh?”

“Do you want my advice or not?”

Percival rolls his eyes, but there's no heat to it, and summons a waiter.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

The newest odd thing Percival has been faced with is that they're given measurements before they even get to see the kid they're dressing; they've not even broadcast the reaping, and yet Percival has already drawn up the patterns for the outfit he's making for the tribute parade. He's cut the pattern twice, using white cambric shot through with silver or gold metaled thread, and now he's waiting to find out which one he's actually going to finish. He's received the sheepskin fleece he wanted, made ready to be attached over the top of the robe, he's ordered sandals in silver and gold and a pile of silver and gold long strips of leather for the thick plaited bracelet thing wrapped around the shepherd's wrist. Everything’s here, except the kid he’s dressing.

Percival did not spend this long garnering his reputation only to waste it on a damn costume, but it's only one outfit. He'll work out colorways and the suit design for the interview once he's seen the kid – he’ll be more scrutinized in that, there’ll be closer camera shots. Whatever zit-riddled teen he gets is going to need to be flaunted somehow.

He watches as the District Nine kids get reaped with disinterest, a drink in his hand - both are young, both are trying not to cry, one is failing. Pathetic. Finally, after Caesar and Claudius do some pointless pre-games analysis (even this early on you can play ‘Spot the Stiff’ with them and what is Claudius Templesmith even damn wearing this evening, breeches are not for the over fifties), the broadcast moves to District Ten via a few establishing shots of plains covered in cows, sheep in the hills. The usual bucolic bullshit.

(At least they do have sheep. To be honest, they push the cow thing so much he wouldn’t have been surprised if they didn’t).

In Ten, he notes, everyone has a hat on except the victors – of which Ten have only two, Tina Goldstein and Gellert Grindelwald, who is disconcertingly, artifically blonde, his eyes different colours and slightly crazed-looking, and mostly won his games by convincing other tributes to eat poisoned berries. Maybe it’s a district thing – the hats and the winning under less than glorious circumstances. Their escort is notionally female and dressed like she's covered in flowers and marshmallows, a trend which needs to be shanked at the knees and slit at the throat before long. She picks the girl first, as is customary. “Vossie Ambrose,” she trills into the microphone.

Vossie Ambrose is seventeen, the stats on the screen tell him. She’s stocky, broad-shouldered, tanned from the sun. She takes off her hat on the stairs up to the stage; her gingham dress tugs around the shoulders and keyholes at the bosom when she moves her arms. There's something instinctively rough about her which the ruffles on her dressfront can't camouflage. Her face is broad and plain, snub-nosed, and dotted with acne. Not, Percival thinks, a winning combination for sponsors, but the girl's not his business. He's not even going to bother remembering her name. She'd do better in the rancher get-up than the nymphish costume she'll have in the tribute parade, but the Capitol will remember the costume and not the girl if they remember anything, so it doesn't matter. Pompadora’s design is sound.

"And now for the boys," the escort announces. She dips her hand into the bowl, fingers almost choreographed as they curl into the pile of ballots, and plucks out a slip of paper. "The male tribute for District Ten..." she opens the piece of paper, then, breaking the wax seal on the back of the ballot, pauses for effect (to read the name beforehand), "Credence Barebone."

There's a murmur, a breaking of the crowd. A slip of a thing steps out of the crowd from midway back, walks to the front, head down. His clothes - a dark suit - are threadbare, and nothing he's wearing seems to fit except the hat. That jacket is too tight for his hunched shoulders and doesn't match the trousers, which are clearly too large around the hips. He remembers to take his homburg hat off on the stairs, straightens his hair self-consciously with a pale hand - it's a tragic bowl cut, but his hair is raven dark and even shorn that short Percival can see it's thick, textured. Any longer and it'd start to wave.

The kid steps onto the stage, turns to the camera, and Percival takes his first look at the boy's face.

Dark, almond-shaped eyes, irises almost as dark as his hair. That skin of his is pale as fresh cream and entirely unblemished - that bone structure... Percival opens a new artsheet with a tap of his stylus and sketches his face, without adding the hair to mar him. He's thin, of course. His neck’s a pale, snappable column, his jawline razor sharp, cheekbones jutting. His lips are plush and pink, well-shaped enough even if held taut and solemn, his gaze now fixed on the ground. There's a little too much shadow under his eyes, but that's fixable. It’s all very much fixable.

Percival can work with this. He opens his SketchPad, begins to scribble a list of what he wants the prep team to do to the kid. Fuck, he thinks. Who knew District Ten could pump that sort of beauty out?